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NORTH CAROLINA: Preacher given probation, community service in federal tax fraud case

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A preacher was sentenced in federal court this month to 300 hours of community service and five years of probation for tax fraud.

The preacher, 58-year-old Earlene McKeithan Baggett of Dunn and of the AME Zion Church, must pay more than $67,000 in restitution, U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle said during her sentencing hearing Sept. 9.

Baggett pleaded guilty in May to filing false tax returns.

She was arrested as part of a larger investigation into fraud at the Learning Links Educational Network Services Center, which had offices in Fayetteville and Dunn.

That business was found to have fraudulently billed the federal government's Tricare and Medicaid health care programs nearly $1.9 million. Learning Links owner Sandra Elliott was sentenced to 10 years for that fraud.

Baggett was found to have not reported her church income and to have under-reported her Learning Links income to the federal government, the U.S. Attorney Office in Raleigh said.

Further, investigators said she told the state retirement board that she had zero income - and then received $34,000 in disability benefits.

Her total unreported income was estimated to be $115,000 in 2009, a news release says.